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Technology Today

May 2001         

You know, I thought traveling with a computer would get easier as this new technology grows but it really doesn’t. Having just recently returned from a trip, I needed a few things with me while traveling to get some work done. I needed the laptop for email, internet access, to write a report and to do some research. I took my PDA, the Casio E115, one of the new Windows Pocket PC because it holds all my calendar, contact list, schedule, and maps to who I was visiting, and when traveling, it is much easier to carry it when needing to make phone calls than is the laptop. The cellular, sorry, digital telephone, was also part of the travel group so that I could keep in touch when out and about. Let’s see, did I miss anything? I did leave the desktop home but from what I see in Florida at some of the retirement communities, many snow birds actually travel with their desktops. So what did I do wrong here. I keep hearing about these new phones and PDAs that are supposed to free us all up from all this baggage, but it still doesn’t seem like I can. Now I realize that I am using old technology here; my laptop is now 18 months old, my PDA is 8 months old, and I am nearly ashamed to confess, my digital Sprint phone is over two years old so it doesn’t handle the web at all.  My problem is what I want to get done still just doesn’t work that well on a phone or PDA. When writing articles, I really prefer to do it on a real keyboard. When surfing the internet, I still also prefer to see it on a wide screen, preferably of about 19 inches and at a high speed. And I would prefer not to have to pay any high access charges for the phone calls while surfing or getting my email.

Now before I get carried away with what I don’t want to do, let me tell you what I do like about the PDA I have and the current crop of them. They actually have screens that are colorful, bright, and can be read in most lighting conditions. Except for outdoors, and inside a car on a sunny day but that is another soapbox of mine to stay off for a few minutes.  I actually don’t mind reading news articles and stories on the PDA. Microsoft along with a number of companies have come out with some pretty good ebook reading software and with the new color bright screens, it is not at all difficult to read a book on the PDA. I still prefer to read a paperback on an airplane but the PDA was a good close second, doesn’t take up any space, and the screen is bright enough and readable enough.  Other things I like about PDAs are the file storage capacity with the add on Compact Flash memory cards, the built in applications are good, and it is good for graphics, music, and maps that I download from Microsoft’s Streets 2001.

I have gotten used to working with the maping, calendar, and contact list on my PDA to the point where it works quite well. I did have to switch to using Outlook on my computer which I wasn’t too pleased with doing but Microsoft is actually improving it so I can struggle with that. I still use Eudora from Qualcomm for my email package on my desktop and laptop as they make it much easier to transfer the contact list, and email messages from one computer to another. And that is one reason I don’t do email on my PDA, that and the fact I really don’t want to spend the money at this time for either a modem for the PDA or a connection to the digital phone.  I have gotten pretty used to the character recognition software on the Casio and it actually works pretty well for the very short one line messages and calendar events that I put in there. I will even put in a contact or two but still prefer to do that on the desktop and then sync it up to the PDA.

And speaking of synchronization, despite what they tell you, it still doesn’t work all that well. My thought for this trip was to copy my Outlook calendar, schedule, and contacts from my desktop to the laptop computer, and then while traveling, sync the PDA to the laptop for file changes, calendar changes, and the like. Well, that didn’t go over well at all. Seems like the sync program (Microsoft’s Active Sync 3.1) would allow me to tell the PDA that I have a second device to sync to, but then decided that everything on both the laptop and PDA needed to be re-synchronized again. Try that over a serial cable and you better be prepared to spend several hours while it does all that. Another reason to be sure that the PDA you buy has a USB connection available to it. The data files were identical but it appears that since the file dates were different, the Active Synch program decided that everything had to be redone again from scratch. Forget it, next trip, I will sync to the desktop to make sure everything is up to date, and then while traveling, just keep everything new on the PDA.

As to the new digital phones, If you were at the ICS meeting recently to see the wireless web on the Sprint phones, you can see how exciting and fun this technology can get to be but you know, I want to get some work done.  Yes there will be a segment of the market that wants all the web stuff on the phone and will do their email to and from it, but you know, I can’t imagine it being that large of a market. What would get my attention would be maybe the email could be read to me over the phone and maybe I could reply to it the same way. Same for some of the web based news services but then it would all have to be interactive, you have to be able to interrupt it to tell it to repeat part or all of it. Part of the problem is the fact you have to still punch buttons while trying to listen to the conversation or message and that just doesn’t work very well. Think people are distracted now in their cars with their phones, imagine if they started getting all this information that way as well while driving.

So It looks like I will still be stuck taking all four devices with me on my trips. What I would like is some better synchronization software to make connecting to the PDA and the laptop easier and I do wish Casio had come out with a USB cable for my unit. As to the phone, what I need to decide is how much I am willing to spend for the privilege of having internet access as well as long distance, and what ever other features they push at the moment. Personally, I still just prefer to use the phone for talking. Part of this comes from my dislike of the tiny monochrome screens you find on the phones. It took me a long time to find a PDA with a good screen and maybe will even take longer to get a new phone.

Short Takes

Biolink Umatch Mouse

In my ever increasing paranoia about computer hacking and security, I came across a pretty neat product called the Biolink Umatch Mouse. A one touch computer security system and so far in my testing, has been really up to delivering on what they promised. It is from Biolink Technologies out of Florida, www.biolinkusa.com, and consists of the Biolink Umatch mouse, drivers and software, and the Biolink authentication software. What this system does after you install it is to turn the mouse into a thumb print scanner. And what a scanner. According to the company, they use a proprietary means of scanning the thumb print to the point of it actually knowing that the thumb is a living thumb attached to the person being scanned. The best part is that you never have to worry about the password on the system and as you know, Windows passwords are pretty worthless to begin with but this system will not allow a user to even start into Windows without being scanned. Another benefit is the Biolink Vault software package that allows you to encrypt files on your computer into a sort of electronic vault. The vault is opened and unlocked when you scan into using the computer and when you shut it down (or at any other time you choose,) it relocks the vault so that even if someone came in and bypassed Windows, your locked files are still secure.

It also works with the screen saver in Windows so that if you go away from the computer, just fire up the screen saver and your files and system is locked out until you go back and scan in again.  I was really impressed with the package. The mouse is a very sturdy well built mouse and actually is quite heavy. The software, easy to install and setup and the passwords hook right into your Windows system. What you do is setup an emergency password in case the mouse doesn’t work or is not recognized to allow you into Windows but for the most part, you start up the computer and the mouse scanner comes on and waits for your thumbprint before continuing. I tested it on a Windows98 system with no problems at all and once setup, is very transparent to normal use.

My only quibbles with the system is that you cannot use another mouse with the system. I had just purchased one of the new Microsoft Optical Intellimouse and am very pleased with it and really didn’t want to change. I would have preferred to use the mouse as a stand alone scanner but that doesn’t work.  If they would come up with a stand alone scanner (preferably USB connected), then I think they would have the perfect answer for desktop users.

Robert Sanborn

-------------------------------------Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant, and the Program Chairman for the Indianapolis Computer Society. Reach him through the net at robert@sanbornsoftware.com


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